‘Struggle for survival’

As August is declared Women’s Month in South Africa, City Vision took to the streets of Khayelitsha to talk to vendor women, to inquire about the reasons why they would wake up as early as 4:00, brave very cold Cape Town mornings, risk their own lives to trundle the roads on their way to train stations or taxi ranks, in search of elusive wealth, or just to eke out a living.

Most cite unemployment of husbands and poverty as what compels them to sell anything from cigarettes, sweets, fruit, braai meat, offal, baked bread, cool drinks, to snuff tobacco.

The women City Vision spoke to were mainly concentrated at the Site C taxi rank.

The modus operandi is to support their families and relatives here, and back home in the Eastern Cape.

Some even travel in the train between Khayelitsha and Cape Town to sell their wares. It’s a daily grind, they concede.

Nokuphumla Sobethwa, from Site C, said she had been on the beat for more than two decades. “I started selling here in 1994, when the whole rank was just gravel. We have endured the worst that the Cape weather can visit on us. My husband was unemployed then and was not kind to the idea of making a living selling stuff here.”

Ntombizanana Soyeza, started selling at the taxi rank in 1993.

“We were less than 10 vendors then, but the number grows as time goes by. Now we are more than 50 vendors at the rank.”

She described their work as very difficult and hard.

“In the week, I start working at four in the morning until five in the afternoon. I must make sure that I arrive here before the first train. And on weekends I start at about five in the morning, until 12 hours later. We don’t have enough time to bond with our families because every day we must be here.”

Sobethwa said her husband became supportive of the venture only when he saw the profit coming in. “When I started selling, I had one child and the other three were born in this business. I sent them to school with the money I’m making here.”

When she started selling, it cost 15 cents to sell a single cigarette, but now she charges about R2.50 for one.

Taxi owners provide security, she added.